I only had until about 9AM before I was supposed to be on a train to Clervaux. It was home to one of Western Europe’s largest and most famous photography collections, amassed by Edward Steichen. I figured I could spend a couple hours there before heading off to Amsterdam. It would involve careful choreography on my part, since I needed to be at the train station in Luxembourg by a certain time, out of the museum by a certain time, and in Amsterdam with enough time to get a good night’s sleep. Careful choreography, you know that’s what I’m all about.
I woke up especially early to get some time walking around town before I had to leave. I started at the hostel, which was buried in the valley. I walked through the small neighbourhood of Pfaffenthal and then up the side of the cliff to the old town. I took a wide loop around town, stopping every now and then to take pictures.
I picked up my bags at the hostel and headed for the train station. The ride to Clervaux was a short trip through the hills and countryside of Luxembourg, overshadowed by dark clouds. Indeed, by the time I got there, the clouds overhead had broken out in rain. I stood under the awning of an apartment building and considered my options: I could walk through the rain, up a hill to the museum, spend a couple hours there, then come all the way back … or I could just keep going to Amsterdam.
I decided to keep going, but the next train to Amsterdam (indirectly, I would have to connect in a couple places) wasn’t for another couple hours. Long enough that I had a very boring wait, but not long enough to justify heading to the museum. Trapped, I sat under an awning at the small, empty train station and waited.
Though about 45 minutes before the train to Liege would pick me up from Clervaux, another train came that was headed to the small town of Troisvierges. I had gotten restless and decided to at least go to Troisvierges and find something to eat. I wandered into town and … wait for it … grabbed a couple pastries and a coffee at a small bakery. As I was the only customer, I ate my brunch sitting in the deserted shop while the young cashier pretended to do work, all the while staring at me.
I finally got to Liege, and this is when things went wrong. I saw on the board that there was a train departing and arriving earlier than the one I had planned on taking. I believe the original plan was to go through Antwerpen, Rotterdam then Amsterdam, but this one took me through Maastricht, Eindhoven, Utrecht and then Amsterdam. Thankfully my ticket just said “Liege to Amsterdam,” and I was free to fill in the details any way I saw fit. I like to think I’m good at traveling: managing times and connections, optimizing the schedule, responding to changes and problems with effective workarounds. I was confident my new plan was sound.
When I was boarding the train to Amsterdam, I did a sanity check and asked the conductor if I was on the right train. He kinda bounced his head from side to side, smirked and said, yes, this goes to Amsterdam. It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence. Without going into too much detail, he said that this train would get me there, but I would have to make some connections. We were minutes away from departing so he told me to get on and he’d confirm everything with me later. I kinda wish he had gone into the details.
It turns out that there was a service disruption between the stops of ‘s Hertogenbosch and Utrecht (that’s not a typo, the name of the town is actually “‘s Hertogenbosch,” or literally, “The Duke’s Forest.” Although it’s always referred to as Den Bosch). I had two options: change at Eindhoven to a train that gets to Amsterdam via Rotterdam and Den Haag, or stay on until Den Bosch, where I would have to take a bus to Utrecht, and then back on a train to finish up. Near Eindhoven I asked the conductor which he thought would be quickest. He said that the buses they had set up were running quickly and in his opinion it would be just as fast as taking the trains. He might’ve been right, I’ll never know, but I really wish I had taken the train.
At Den Bosch there was a mad dash from the platform to the shuttle stop once we collectively figured out where to go. Being a foreigner, I was at a disadvantage because the English version of any station announcements would come second, allowing natives to get the jump on me. Fortunately, over the past couple months, I had developed a unique ability to pick out common numbers and words in other languages and, frankly, “get the gist.” I was right in stride with the Dutch as we bolted up and down ramps and across platforms.
The line for the shuttle was long, but fortunately I was on a bus within 10 minutes. It took longer and the bus was crowded and stuffy, but we finally got to Utrecht just after sundown. I jumped on the next train to Amsterdam, and at long last, more than 8 hours after I left Luxembourg, through three countries and countless transfers, I had reached.
I was booked into a dorm at the Stayokay Vondelpark, but by the time I got there, the thought of sharing a room with three other people the night before an interview was not an attractive option. I managed to swap to a double room, where I was the only occupant. It had been a long, tiring day and I got some much-needed rest.